27 Sep 2014Sofia Opera and Ballet


Ognyan Stamboliev

20 February 1816 is a great date in the life of "The Swan from Pesaro" – Gioacchino Antonio Rossini /1792 – 1868/ and also in the history of opera. On this day his masterpiece, the comic opera “Il barbiere di Siviglia ovvero La precauzione inutile”, comes into the light. Many stories are still told about this fascinating work, some of them sounding like legends. It is worth recalling now Henri Beile or Stendhal, a contemporary and passionate admirer of Italian opera and of Rossini himself, who wrote a remarkable book about the composer. Here is what he tells us: “Arriving in Rome, Rossini found Domenico Barbaia, the celebrated impresario and owner of Rome's great Teatro Argentina, mired in a nasty quarrel with the local police. And it imposed a strict ban on all operatic libretti, on the pretext that their content was... "very meaningful"! And at that time, this wonderful and romantic art, opera, was incredibly popular, replacing football and television, was at the centre of everyday life of all strata of society... Glorious times, right?!... And Stendhal continued, "When the people are clever and unsatisfied, every word takes on the meaning of a 'hint'... Having judged a more propitious moment, the impresario offers the Roman governor the "lovely", in his words, libretto of "Il barbiere di Siviglia". The poet Cesare Sterbini wrote it from the comedy of the same name by the Frenchman Pierre Auguste Caron de Beaumarchais /1732 – 1799/, and before that the famous Neapolitan maestro Giovanni Paisiello had already used it for an opera of the same title. The Governor of Rome, bored that day with endless talk of manners and propriety, readily accepted the offer to stage the opera"...But this embarrassed the young Rossini, who was clever and prescient enough not to show undue modesty in the face of real merit. And he hastened to write to Paisiello in Naples. The old maestro, who possessed to a considerable degree the traits of a true Gascon and was dying of envy at the success of the young and already notorious Rossini, very graciously replied that he welcomed with "great joy the choice of the papal police and the censorship" of his work. Evidently, Paisiello had counted on the resounding failure of his young and presumptuous rival. Rossini, however, wrote a small preface to “Il barbiere”, showed Paisiello's letter to all the music-lovers in Rome, and set to work feverishly. In just 13 days /!/ the music was completely finished. But at the premiere the Roman public found the work of the young composer from Pesaro ... "dull" and "much weaker" than the work of Paisiello and booed it... In fact, in this case, as is well known, it was a pre-planned failure or rather a scandal caused by the supporters of the old Paisiello, which led to Rossini's flight from Rome. Fortunately, the second performance was a real triumph for the author and his work. Not long after, Rossini's Figaro became the uncrowned king of comic opera of all time.

In 1816, immediately after "Il barbiere", he created another masterpiece "La Cenerentola ossia Il Trionfo della bonta" – "Cinderella or the Triumph of Goodness" – a joyful drama in two acts based on a libretto by Giacopo Ferretti, inspired by the fairy tale by Charles Perrault. It premiered at the Teatro Valle, Rome on 25 January 1817. Immediately afterwards “Cinderella” conquered the Italian and European musical stages and entered the repertoire of the major theatres.

It was staged for the first time in our country on 13 December 1968 with great success by the director Prof. Petar Starbanov /who translated the libretto/, the conductor Prof.  Boris Hinchev and the stage designer Mariana Popova.

In the main role competed two wonderful artists – mezzo-sopranos Reni Penkova and Alexandrina Milcheva /both especially suitable for Angelina/. As Prince Ramiro and the lackey Dandini, the lyric tenor Pavel Kurshumov, who was born for Rossini and especially for this role, and the bass-baritone Pavel Gerdzhikov, who was incredibly stylish, spirited and inventive in this unforgettable spectacle, scored real career highs.  For the other responsible roles were engaged first class artists such as: sopranos Nadya Sharkova and Yulia Kiradzhieva and basses Nikolay Stoilov and Nikola Hristov.

The production was performed for a long time to full houses and was shown with great success in Moscow, on the stage of the Bolshoi during a tour of the Sofia Opera.

For the first time in Bulgarian!



    to the great singer Isabella Angelica Colbran,



My dear and lovely friend, I would like you to be in Rome for a little while to see my triumph. “Il barbiere di Sivciglia” grows more popular every day, and appeals even to the most inveterate opponents of the new school of music. Count Almaviva's serenade from the Act I is sung here every night in the streets, Figaro's great aria or cavatina is a crowning number for the baritones, and Rosina's cavatina is an evening song with which every local beauty goes to sleep, to wake in the morning with the phrase "Lindoro, mio sara!" /"Lindoro will be mine!"/... But, my dear Angelica, I suppose that much more interesting to you than my last opera will be the recipe for a new salad that I recently invented to the delight of all the gourmets in Rome. I hasten to tell you: take a suitable pot, pour in some Provençal oil, add English mustard, a little lemon juice, mayonnaise, pepper and salt to taste.

Stir it all very well, then add the main – finely chopped truffles. They will give the salad a very sophisticated taste, worthy of any real gourmet. The Cardinal's secretary, whom I met these days, apostolically blessed me for this invention...But let's go back to "Il barbiere". In the Act II, which – frankly – is inferior to Act I, I like best the duet of Almaviva, disguised as a music teacher, under the name of Don Alonzo, with Doctor Bartolo, Rosina's guardian – "Joya, Pace!" /"Peace and joy!"/, and also the aria of the old guardian, "As long as we are with you two, oh my dear Rosina!" in which I lightly parodied the old Italian school, and finally, the Terzetta of Rosina, Almaviva and Figaro, "Piano, piano..." I like the Quintet less, in which the fever-stricken Don Basilio goes away and comes back again. I am ready to admit to anyone that this number from Maestro Paisiello's opera on the same subject is much more graceful than mine...My dear Angelica, I would be very happy if you liked my new truffle salad. As you can see, its recipe is not complicated at all ... For myself, Angelica, I can say that I am now living quite well here in Rome. I'm having a lot of success with the local pretty girls, but I'm downright desperate that there are hardly any good fresh oysters to be found in this lost city. If you, Angelica, in divine Naples, please remember me ... I would forget the most important thing: I started a new opera. It's called "La Gazzetina" /"The Gazette"/ and it's based on a text by Carlo Goldoni. Soon I will finish it ... Don't forget me, dear Angelica!

Yours: Gioacchino, Rome, February 1816

In 1822 Rossini and Isabella Colbran married and the singer performed the leading roles in most of his operas.

portrait of Isabella Colbran 
on the photo – the prima donna Isabella Colbran, the first Angelina from Rossini's “La cenerentola”, 1817, Rome.


         /The date and the name of the recipient are not apparent from the manuscript/

.... Wait until the night of the premiere. Nothing stirs up inspiration like the presence of the notetaker, looking forward to your work with great anticipation, and especially the terribly worried impresario, who has already begun to pluck his hair and swear desperately! I must tell you that in my time all the impresarios in Italy went bald long before they were thirty!... I composed the overture to “Otello” in a servant's room in the palace of Barbaja palace in Rome, where I was forcibly locked in by the baldest and most ferocious of all the opera directors and impresarios of Italy. He tossed me a plate of cold spaghetti like a puppy and threatened all the servants not to let me go until I had written the last note. I wrote the overture to “La gazza ladra” only on the day of the premiere in... the stairwell, where I was locked in personally by the director of La Scala under the supervision of four stagehands.

They were ordered to take the manuscript from me – sheet by sheet – and give it to the notetaker, who was sitting on a table outside, ready to copy it and give it to the orchestra... For Ïl barbiere” I did the more sensible thing: I did not compose a new overture, but simply took one ready-made – for the serious opera Elizabeth, Queen of England, which was no longer performed. The audience liked it very much and didn't realise it was old – they were overjoyed!... I wrote the overture to "Le Comte Ory" while fishing, knee-deep in the waters of the Seine, in the pleasant society of Senor Aguado, a Spaniard, a famous Parisian banker, who was gossiping about the state of financial affairs in his country ... Under similar circumstances I composed the overture to my last opera, "William Tell" As for "Moses" – for this famous opera I did not write any overture...

  1. “BE LENIENT!”

                 To Mr Filippo Sandocale, lawyer

                 Palermo, Sicily

My dear friend, you expect me to answer you in my own hand, and here I am obeying your wish. For thirteen months I have been tormented by terrible, unbearable nervous fits, which have gradually deprived me of sleep and appetite, impaired my hearing, my sight, and so impeded my physical condition that I can no longer dress myself without help from others. Doctors are unable to treat me – they only comfort me. In the midst of these misfortunes, my dear friend, my dear benefactor, I can do nothing for you and for your lovely wife, except to express my infinite gratitude for your immeasurable kindness to me ... I have not held a pen in my hand for so long that I can no longer even write.

Please be lenient with the man who has become unfortunate. Be patient!

Keep your cordial disposition towards me and that will be my greatest consolation...


Florence, May 1865                                                  Your devotee: Gioacchino Antonio Rossini


Translation from Italian: OGNYAN STAMBOLIEV